Harold Ramis, who was best known for his role as Dr Egon Spengler, one-quarter of the Ghostbusters, and avid collector of “spores, moulds and fungus” died today aged just 69. But should he have died at 89, or 109, he would still have been too young, and his death would still have come too soon.
He leaves behind a substantial and inspirational body of work as a writer, director and actor, such as Animal House (1978) Caddyshack (1980), Stripes (1981) and National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983). However, it was Groundhog Day (1993), where he directed Bill Murray as a self-absorbed TV weatherman that made the biggest impact on a new generation of actors, comedians, film lovers and everyone in between.
For many, Ramis became synonymous with great American comedy, thanks to his one liners and his ability to subvert the traditional ‘straight man’ role easily, making the serious character more comic, accessible and likeable. In fact, what made Egon funny, and indeed, what made a lot of Ramis’ films very funny, was his ability to take the power from the ‘funny guy’ on-screen with such simplicity.
Before he became a comedy performer, director and screenwriter, Ramis began his working life as a substitute teacher, he also worked in a mental institution before moving into journalism, working as a freelancer for the Chicago Daily News and as the Joke Editor and reviewer for Playboy‘s Party Jokes section. He then moved into radio and television, working with Murray, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi on National Lampoon’s Radio Hour, and the legendary Second City comedy troupe.
While Bill Murray’s mostly ad-libbed performance as the unorthodox parapsychologist, Dr Peter Venkman, is still a highlight of both Ghostbusters (1984) and Ghostbusters II (1989), it’s Ramis’ more subtle asides, such as the infamous “Do.” “Ray.” “Egon!” one-liner, complete with that self-effacing smile as the Ghostbusters warm up their proton packs that lingers long after the credits have stopped rolling.
In a world dominated with a media obsessed by celebrity and notoriety, Ramis managed that which many modern public figures struggle to do; create great, lasting work with grace and humility, inspiring countless young people along the way. He built a good reputation, gaining the love and respect of his colleagues, including Murray, although the pair were estranged for years after the release of Groundhog Day, but reconciled before Ramis’ death.
In recent years he continued writing, directing and acting, appearing in comedies such as Knocked Up (2007) Year One (2009), and directed the films, Analyze This (1999), the sequel, Analyze That (2002) The Ice Harvest (2005) and a handful of episodes of the US version of The Office (2006 – 2010).
It’s a strange thing, when a celebrity that has influenced us dies. We mourn because we feel that their death means that we have lost a part of ourselves, a precious piece of our lives that cannot be replaced. We mourn because their death reminds us that this person was only human after all, and therefore, we ourselves, are only human, with an unknown amount of time left on the planet.
His work was original, simple, silly, but always brilliant, and an appearance from him in a film made everything better. His brief cameo in the comedy Baby Boom (1987), made me watch until the end in the hope he would reappear. He didn’t.
Ramis brought such joy to my childhood, and I feel much poorer knowing that his new work won’t be a part of my adulthood.
Thanks for everything, Harold Ramis.